Choices at a Table of Plenty

When I was a child, my father kept an editorial cartoon pinned up in the vestibule of our church that made a deep impression on me I have never forgotten. It was a black and white drawing by the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Herblock that was originally published in the Washington Post in October 1947. The picture shows well-dressed, happy people sitting at a banquet table overflowing with place settings, goblets, and so much food—a roast, gravy boats, bread and butter, covered dishes, heaping platters of sides—the table cannot hold any more. Hovering behind them and filling the rest of the image is a crowd of gaunt, wide-eyed hungry children dressed in rags. Back at the table, one of the dinner guests is speaking cheerfully to his smiling companions. The caption reads: “Shall we say grace?”

Over Thanksgiving, many Americans were blessed and deeply grateful to gather with family and friends and say grace around a table that looked a little like the one in the cartoon. But many others were outside watching quietly with no place at America’s table of plenty.

For families who couldn’t gather with loved ones during the pandemic, celebrating around full tables seemed especially joyful in 2022. But there are millions of Americans for whom trying to put a holiday meal on the table—or just making sure everyone has enough to eat every day—became even more difficult this year. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansions enacted during the pandemic in the American Rescue Plan helped millions of working people and families with children afford food and other basics. On November 30, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report showing once again the expanded CTC’s dramatic success in helping child poverty fall to its lowest rate on record in 2021. But when Congress let those expansions expire last December just as prices for many essentials were beginning to rise, many adults and parents couldn’t fill the gap. Research now shows food insufficiency rates among households with children increased 25 percent in 2022 after the monthly CTC payments ended. Some are hungrier now than when the pandemic began.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is a leading national nonprofit working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States, and over Thanksgiving week FRAC and a coalition of more than 550 national, state, and community-based organizations also working to end hunger including CDF-California sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to reinstate the expanded CTC and EITC in any end of the year tax package. The letter says: “With the expiration of these two programs, organizations like ours know full well how tens of millions of families are experiencing higher levels of food insufficiency, and racial disparities are only deepening.”

Research confirmed buying food was the most common use of the expanded CTC payments across all income levels, and the CTC increased families’ ability to afford and eat more fruit, protein, and balanced meals. Research also shows if an expanded CTC was in place for another year it would support more than 500,000 private-sector jobs, and more than 130 economists recently called for restarting the monthly CTC payments to offset the toll of inflation. Moreover, families with children are far from the only Americans struggling to make ends meet right now, making expanding the EITC also critical. As FRAC’s letter notes: “Failure to reinstate the extended CTC and EITC will only fuel hunger by increasing the income, educational, health, and racial disparities that are pervasive in our country. It is essential that the CTC and EITC be extended now without further delay.”

As this Congress tends to its last few weeks of unfinished business, it has important choices to make. Making sure fewer children, families, and workers go hungry should be an easy one. There is no excuse for ignoring the deep needs all around us in a nation that has more than enough to spare and share for all.